Congo’s bongos are in danger, and restrictions on trophy hunting could save them

  • Unsustainable hunting quotas could lead to the extinction of a rare African antelope in a corner of the Republic of Congo, according to a study by the NGO Wildlife Conservation Society.
  • Less than 30,000 bongos remain today, inhabiting wooded areas south of the Sahara in Africa, including the Republic of Congo, allowing commercial hunting of these prized ungulates.
  • The country’s current hunting allocation of 15 adult males per year could lead to their disappearance within 25 years from the Bonio hunting concession, where the investigation was conducted, according to the researchers.
  • In addition to trophy hunting, epidemics, habitat loss and unregulated hunting also threaten bongos in eastern Congo.

When the first bongo was reported dead near the Sangha River in the Republic of Congo in 1997, it was believed to have drowned. Several more appeared in the following weeks. Some have been seen tottering along open roads, which is unusual for a predominantly nocturnal animal. Others seemed unusually fearless. All were emaciated.

At least 17 bongos died that year after a catastrophic explosion in Stomoxys the flies descended on the ungulates, biting them, weakening them and often killing them. He alerted researchers to the possibility that all was not well with the bongo (Tragelaphus eurycera).

Now, a study conducted more than two decades later shows that blood-sucking flies aren’t the only existential threat to this rare African antelope – so are unsustainable trophy hunting quotas.

The current allocation of 15 adult males per year could result in their demise from Bonio’s hunting concession in the Republic of Congo within 25 years, according to the investigation by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a state-based NGO. -United.

The bongo’s bold stripes and striking horns make it a prized trophy, or, as one hunter put it, the “animal of a lifetime. “

Less than 30,000 of the brown-colored ungulates remain today, found in a belt just south of the Sahara. Of the two known subspecies of bongo, the oriental bongo (T. e. isaaci) faces a tougher battle for its survival: only a hundred of these mountain antelopes remain in the mountains of Kenya.

The plain bongo (T. e. eurycera) is found in countries of West and Central Africa, its range straddling the Congo River. Like its neighbors Cameroon and the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo allows commercial hunting of bongos in designated concessions.

The Bonio safari concession is located in the Kabo forest concession, which is part of the buffer zone of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park. The park in the north of the Republic of the Congo was itself carved out of a densely forested forest concession in 1993 and is co-managed by WCS and the Congolese government.

There are around 150 bongos in Bonio, but that number could be as low as 81, according to the WCS study. The government should reduce the hunting quota from 15 to three per year, the researchers say.

In their study, they examined how different hunting quotas would influence the fate of the bongo.. There were three things going into the mix: level of trophy hunting, unregulated capture, and disease risk. Trophy hunting at all levels poses some risk to the survival of the bongo in Bonio, the models show.

“More than three animals a year and your chances of local extinction increase dramatically,” said Emma Stokes, WCS Regional Director for Central Africa.

The only scenario in which the risk of extinction is zero is that there is no commercial hunting, there is no epidemic, and the existing pressures from unregulated hunting do not increase. not step up. Bongos have not traditionally been hunted by locals or targeted by poachers. They can become unintentional victims of traps or end up being killed on the road. These activities were considered unregulated harvest by the study authors.

As humans have learned the hard way, the risk of an epidemic cannot be taken lightly. The meeting with Omega Stomoxys flies in 1997 hit the bongos in the Kabo region hard.

“There hadn’t been a full survey of the bongo population since the outbreak, so we didn’t know what the population was,” Stokes told Mongabay. “We wanted to be able to advise the government on a scientifically rigorous process to arrive at a quota. “

A bongo filmed at night. Image courtesy of WCS.

What makes management even more difficult is our ignorance about these elusive salt-loving herbivores. “They are so little known from a taxonomic point of view; no modern revision or genetic work has ever been attempted, ”said Spartaco Gippoliti, an Italian taxonomist.

Trophy hunting is a hot conservation issue. Advocates, mostly pro-hunting organizations, say it protects hunted species by generating much-needed income, especially in remote parts of Africa where tourism is unlikely to become a crutch for conservation.

“I don’t think properly managed hunting areas can put bongo populations at risk, especially if the long-term benefits are shared with local communities and the habitat is protected,” Gippoliti said.

However, opponents say talking about benefits is misleading and killing animals for sport goes against basic conservation principles. IUCN, the world conservation authority, maintains that trophy hunting efforts can help preserve species, provided they are “well managed. “ (A buzzfeed published survey last year indicated that supporters of trophy hunting have undue influence on IUCN.)

In 1995, when the Bonio concession was created, a survey conducted by the Congolese government, representatives from WCS, the German government development agency (GIZ) and the safari industry discovered that bongos were abundant in the region. Still, investigators advised caution, recommending that the quota be set at three as a first step. It was then increased to eight.

Their caution turned out to be prescient. Barely two years later, the Stomoxys a fly epidemic has hit the bongo population in Kabo, killing both young bongos and adults. Although adult antelopes can weigh up to 350 kilograms (770 pounds), swarms of blood-sucking flies can weaken even the hardiest of them.

An aerial view of a herd of bongos. Image courtesy of Jean Pierre Sagette / WCS.

In 1999, the government declared the bongos fully protected and banned hunting. However, in 2011 he downgraded the species and allowed hunting again, with an even higher quota: 15 per year.

How the Congolese government decides on this number is unclear. Quotas are determined based on the results of a survey or inventory of the wildlife resource, according to Jean Bosco Nganongo, who heads the wildlife division at the Ministry of Forest Economy. But he added that “unfortunately no investigation or inventory has been funded.”

Nganongo said no hunting had taken place in the Bonio concession in recent years. “From an economic point of view, it is a lack of revenue for the public treasury,” he said, “from a social point of view, there are shortages of jobs for the local community. and indigenous people.

He said the data from the WCS study came from a few years ago and that a new survey would inform the government’s decision on hunting quotas.

The Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB), a subsidiary of the Singaporean agri-food giant Olam International, holds the logging contract for Kabo. Steven Fairbairn, head of external affairs at Olam International, told Mongabay the company had no say in deciding hunting quotas. “We do not support any hunting activity, and in partnership with WCS, we share the goal of protecting wildlife in the region, ”he said.

The only thing that favors the conservation of bongo are the local taboos against the consumption of bongo meat; some people believe that it causes illnesses in children. This belief is so strong that surveyors who visited the Kabo concession in 1995 advised against distributing bongo meat to villagers, a common practice after trophy hunts. However, these taboos could erode over time, the study’s authors warned.

There are signs of increasing pressure on this piece of land. “If you look at the logging concession, there are a number of new roads that are being built in this area and also the upgrading of a national road,” Stokes said. “The general trajectory is that of an increase in human activities in the region.”

There are also questions about many things the past can teach us about future epidemics. The authors of the study considered that 1997 Stomoxys hatch a rare event, which only occurs once a century. This explosion of biting flies occurred as a result of heavy rains followed by a prolonged dry spell. Climate change could increase the risk of another such epidemic, skewing the risk of extinction.

Quotes:

Koopmans, M., Stokes, EJ, Opepa, CK, Mouele, AM, Abea, G., Strindberg, S., & Brncic, TM (2021). Estimating the density of wild bongos and analyzing population viability improves conservation management. Global ecology and conservation, 28, e01661. do I:10.1016 / j.gecco.2021.e01661

Elkan, PW, Parnell, R. and Smith, JL (2009). Death of large ungulates as a result of Stomoxys biting fly infestation in lowland forests, northern Republic of Congo. African Journal of Ecology, 47(4), 528-536. do I:10.1111 / j.1365-2028.2008.00980.x

Huchzermeyer, FW, Penrith, ML and Elkan, PW (2001). Multifactorial mortality in bongos and other wild ungulates of northern Republic of Congo. Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Journal, 68(4), 263-69. Recovered from https://www.proquest.com/docview/195060531

(Banner image: A bongo captured on a camera trap. Image courtesy of WCS.)

Malavika Vyawahare is the Malagasy editor of Mongabay. Find her on Twitter: @MalavikaVy
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Antelope, Diseases, Endangered species, Hunting, Logging, Excessive hunting, Research, Species, Trophy hunting, Wild animals, Wildlife conservation


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